Pet Foods - Diet Types

There are three diet types used in the pet food industry:

  • Dry foods are usually a bagged kibble containing 3-11% water.

  • Canned foods are usually in a solid or soft-sided container with 60-78% water.

  • Semi-moist foods are usually packaged in pouches with 25-35% water.


In the U.S. dog and cat foods are generally sold as complete and balanced products. Dogs and cats have complex nutritional requirements: dogs are known to require 38 nutrients daily, while cats require 40. A label indicating that a food is “complete and balanced” means that the food not only contains all of the known nutrients required by the animal but that those nutrients are in proper balance with the energy density of the food and with each other.

Unlike human nutrition where we are encouraged to eat a variety of foods because no one food contains all the nutrients we require, pet food products do contain all of the known nutrients required by cats or dogs.

There are advantages and disadvantages to the three different diet types. Pet food quality and nutritional profile is independent of diet form; however, there are owner and pet preferences for diet type.

  • Dry foods are more economical to feed than canned or semi-moist foods and can remain at room temperature safely for several (1-3 hours) if not wetted.

  • Semi-moist foods are generally more palatable than dry foods but have become less popular in the last decade, hence more difficult to find.

  • Canned foods are generally more palatable than semi-moist and dry because they contain more of the nutrients that taste good: water, protein and fat.